‘Umoya’ – Philip Clouts Quartet

Umoya

IT HAS TO BE the innate South African rhythm of life that Philip Clouts possesses which marks out his quartet albums with such sunshiny zest.

Born in Cape Town, and resident of the generally balmier UK region of West Dorset, the pianist/composer’s approach is typically melodic, straight-ahead and high-spirited. Following up his Hour of Pearl album of 2013, the Umoya title of this latest release is a Zulu word for ‘life force’, confirming that accessible joie de vivre in his performances; and to the rhythm section of Alex Keen (electric bass) and Dave Ingamells (drums), he invites young saxophonist Samuel Eagles – who impressed with his own debut album – to add considerable upfront sparkle.

So, certainly a jazz album, generously filled with memorable hooks and broad improvisation… but these eight tracks are also unquestionably infused with alluring ‘world’ grooves which find their way so readily into Clouts’ compositions, and which are central to their attraction. Title track Umoya is the perfect illustration, its clarity and apparent simplicity actually paving the way for bright, syncopated rhythms which might recall Chris McGregor or Dudu Pukwana, as Samuel Eagles’ elongated phrases intertwine with Clouts’ own lucid solo lines and endearing block chord triplet sequences.

Dreamy Driving catches the imagination – a musically colourful journey taking in contemporary riffs, oases of calm and ear-pricking textural combinations held together by the mobility of Alex Keen’s electric bass; and Taranto‘s world/folk influence is heightened by Eagles’ Italianate inflections and Clouts’ vigorously cascading sequences.

Walking in Starlight‘s cool sidewalk nonchalance is created out of Keen’s unhurried bass and Clouts’ softly-jabbing electric piano, whilst Dave Ingamells’ momentum and crisp detail here are typical of his pervading presence throughout these 50 minutes or so. Perhaps it’s the Joe Sample-style keys here – reminiscent of Street Life – which bring the tantalising realisation that so many of Clouts’ melodically strong compositions cry out for a vocal line (his father was a South African poet); one can only imagine the potential vivacity – not to mention beauty – of such a project!

Direction South pays direct homage to the music of the pianist’s birth land in a joyous, Abdullah Ibrahim-like gambol; Amor possesses a contrasting restlessness, Eagles’ mysterious soprano sax deliciously weaving around Clouts’ ostinato undercurrent, occasionally hitting a hard-driving rock pulse; and the bright, lurching gospel/blues of Meandering is pounced upon by Eagles, his swooning modal explorations especially attractive.

There are certainly grittier, edgier experiences out there – but this is a life-affirming, musically-accomplished album to relax into (and, I dare say – when the sun deigns to reappear – to pop a cork to!). Umoya can be purchased from Philip Clouts’ website, Odradek Records, record stores and online retailers.

 

Philip Clouts piano, composer
Samuel Eagles saxophones
Alex Keen electric bass
Dave Ingamells drums

philipcloutsquartet.co.uk

Odradek Records – ODRCD503 (2015)

‘Flow’ – Drifter

Drifter_Flow_300

“THE MUSIC means so much more now. Ten years ago, we were just playing tunes that we loved to play. Now the music comes from within us and somehow encapsulates the feelings of the last ten years.”

There’s a heartwarming sense of triumph and arrival which emanates from the backstory to those words from Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila. Early in the ‘noughties’, Tuomarila and his quartet were flying high and recording with Warner Jazz France (most notable, their excellent 2003 album 02) when suddenly the label shut down their jazz and classical department. Here was a prominent European jazz ensemble without the proverbial paddle… or so it seemed. In the intervening years, both Tuomarila and saxophonist Nicolas Kummert continued to independently develop their craft through regular touring, and perhaps there was an inevitability about them not just crossing paths in the future, but once again kindling the spark of their creativity.

Now, following Edition Records’ 2014 release of Alexi Tuomarila’s engaging trio album Seven Hills, and encouraged by Edition, the quartet have reconvened as Drifter; former members Tuomarila and Kummert join again with drummer Teun Verbruggen and welcome bassist Axel Gilain to the fold. There’s a smile-inducing mystique about this quartet’s combined output which can be difficult to nail. Certainly, the instrumentation is familiar – but perhaps the best explanation is that there is both strength and balance achieved through the co-leadership of pianist Tuomarila and saxophonist Kummert, buoyed by the varicoloured rhythmic skills of Verbruggen and Gilain. Persistent up-front soloing is not Drifter’s way.

From this near hour-long collection of eight originals, plus one arrangement, opener Crow Hill reveals the aforementioned parity as piano and sax become almost conjoined in the melodic spotlight; and when Tuomarila eloquently breaks loose, Kummert responds up through the gears, his verbal tone redolent of Joshua Redman or Mark Lockheart. Tuomarila’s dual trademark is found in The Elegist which grooves to his deep chordal impetus, yet also produces effortless high piano lines which sail as purely as fast-moving cirrus; and, taking Axel Gilain’s high ostinato bass hook plus Verbruggen’s bristling percussion, Harmattan provides greater extemporised freedom for piano and sax.

Drifter’s sound world is beautifully accessible, with the added complexion of a few vocal tracks (as in the 02 album’s Bone-Yard Jive). But rather than offering extensive lyricism, the quietly harmonic voices of Kummert and Gilain are employed more instrumentally through repeated phrases which, in Lighthouse, cleverly pictorialise its dark, lilting momentum (“I’m looking for a lighthouse”); and with more of a rock inflection than jazz, the effect is quite distinctive. Nothing Ever Lasts (music by Tuomarila, words by Gilain) feels particularly anthemic, its solid folksong-like motif carried through into a memorable vocal exultation, with Kummert’s sax hinting at Garbarek.

The grungy, wailing, jazz/blues of Breathing Out My Soul becomes knee-tappingly infectious. With only a simple, repeated, unison vocalisation of the title, a wonderfully pliant bass motif sets up stand-out piano from Tuomarila against the thrashing of Verbruggen’s kit; and enticing rhythmic changes invite Kummert’s sax to overflow in improvisation – quite unlike anything out there at present! Gilain’s Toueï is delightful as it gently pirouettes around the bass – and, as throughout the album, themes and rhythms regularly metamorphose with entertaining unexpectedness.

The concept of covering a rock/pop hit such as the The Police’s King of Pain might well come with a warning – but Tuomarila unlocks its hidden dance qualities so remarkably that it becomes its own idea, with the lyrics of Sting’s original soon forgotten amidst its driving energy. And to close, Vagabond combines the compositional Englishness of Tim Garland with Svensson-like piano explorations – a resounding, dizzying climax.

Alexi Tuomarila’s belief that this quartet’s re-emergence marks “the development of our friendship as a band and the greater sense of purpose we all have in our lives” is borne out in an exciting album which I’ve repeatedly enjoyed over the past few weeks.

Released on 17 July 2015, Flow is available at Bandcamp as download, CD or 140gm 12″ vinyl.

 

Alexi Tuomarila piano
Nicolas Kummert saxophone, vocals
Axel Gilain double bass, vocals
Teun Verbruggen drums

Edition Records – EDN1059 (2015)

‘Land Grab’ – Sam Trapchak

LandGrab

THE HEADY GROOVE of this solid Stateside jazz/rock album has had me transfixed for some weeks. But it’s way too good to keep to myself!…

Land Grab – the second release, as leader, from Michigan-born double bassist Sam Trapchak and his irrepressible quartet of Greg Ward (alto sax), Tom Chang (electric guitar) and Christian Coleman (drums) – hits a remarkable balance of compositional and improvisatory verve; and its the raw power of frontline alto and guitar combined with robust bass and drums which holds the attention throughout, as well as an impressive ability to snap from lush, lofty chordal jazz into irresistibly gutsy hard rock riffs.

Tom Chang’s prominent, sustained and enquiring guitar style is likely to draw a good few comparisons – easily John McLaughlin or Pete McCann; perhaps John Abercrombie, Allan Holdsworth or John Goodsall – sharing a great voicing affinity here with saxophonist Greg Ward to pull off a raft of audaciously complex unison lines. Take, for example, bold, swaggering Lumpy’s Blues which, buoyed by the thunderously percussive rhythms of Trapchak and Coleman, resounds to brash, Led Zeppelin-like guitar-and-sax riffs; and Trapchak himself displays an animated bass pliancy reminiscent of Dave Holland or Ben Allison.

Pterofractal, which opens the album’s extended six-track sequence, soars deliciously to a frenzy of clanging guitar mixed with unfettered, Steve Coleman-like sax; and the searching ambience of Beautiful/Furious switches into fabulously overdriven, pitch-bent wailing from Chang. Here again, sax and guitar connect superbly in shrill, on-the-edge improvisation as Greg Ward’s alto sputters and swoons to the fierce rhythm (as writer, Trapchak rarely seeks the limelight, but is clearly the backbone of this quartet).

The briefest and most insular of the tracks, Bell Curve, is a lightly-trod episode of rising and falling contrapuntalism, predominantly for drumless trio – fascinating to hear how the differently-textured, almost Bachian melodies intertwine; and, introduced by Trapchak’s phonetic bass solo, nine-minute Breathing Room opens into a broad, prog jazz landscape redolent of the work of Asaf Sirkis or Nguyên Lê. Title track Land Grab closes the album in a blazing Weather Reportian/Mahavishnuan maelstrom fired by the persistent pulsation of bass and drums; and Ward’s lower alto register, not unlike Shorter, becomes hypnotic when combined with Chang’s piercing, seemingly McLaughlin-inspired soloing.

Released on Raw Toast Records, Land Grab is available from CD Baby as well as iTunes and Amazon. Sam Trapchak’s intelligent compositional prowess is intuitively realised by this fine quartet, and turning up the volume is requisite… but just keep those ‘air guitar’ hands on the steering wheel!

 

Sam Trapchak bass, compositions
Greg Ward alto sax
Tom Chang electric guitar
Christian Coleman drums

samtrapchak.com

Raw Toast Records (2015)

‘Piano Ambulance’ – Maurizio Minardi

PianoAmbulance

MAURIZIO Minardi’s The Cook the Clown the Monk and the Accordionist of 2013 showcased the London-based Italian’s brilliance with the accordion in an engaging album of his own jazz compositions characterised by humour, theatre and showmanship.

New release Piano Ambulance shifts the focus of his unequivocal technical expertise to his first instrument, piano, with another fascinating programme of self-penned works – this time for piano quartet (with trio members bassist Nick Pini and drummer Jason Reeve, plus the sustained depth of Shirley Smart’s cello). The instrumental combination of the four is as distinctive as it is effective, capturing Minardi’s penchant for visual music which is so evidently cinematic in its predominance of drama, urgency and storytelling, whilst also contrasted by delightfully delicate interludes.

The siren-suggested piano oscillations of title number Piano Ambulance develop in vigorous Einaudian earnestness, balanced with a trio serenity which indicates the story behind Minardi’s album naming (his positive experiences of the beneficial, cathartic effects of live music that can sometimes be found in English hospitals and nursing homes). April Sun exudes an endearingly spacial, childlike simplicity peppered with the pianist’s improvisations, yet still with unsettled, ambulant overtones; and Goodbye London – its initial fluttering, tricksy moto perpetuo rhythms reminiscent of Penguin Cafe – builds into melodramatic grandeur enhanced by emotionally yearning cello.

Friday Almost paints pictures of both anticipatory joy and rush-hour bustle before relaxing into the most tranquil, electronic-tinged oasis, whilst the menacing impetus of Secret Skin resounds to Shirley Smart’s abrasive, Anja Lechner-like glissando extemporisations and Jason Reeve’s propulsive drum/cymbal accuracy (here, again, the quartet display their deftness in emotively ‘turning on a sixpence’ to sparser territory). There’s a stately, pseudo-Baroque air to Indulgence – and, complete with Minardi’s elegant piano ornamentation and Nick Pini’s delicious bass improvisation, its grazioso melody might easily be sung to words.

A strong sense of narrative defines Dangerous Innocence, Minardi’s characteristic piano ostinati (at times not unlike Michael Nyman or Philip Glass) escalating to a troubled, driven episode until a melancholy cello melody closes; certainly soundtrack material, as is Seven Sisters, a loftier, romantic affair coloured by Pini’s bass and Smart’s cello. In trio finale Francesca’s Gloves, the absence of Minardi’s familiar, repetitious pulse creates a more typically Italian style with subtle Bachian shades redolent of, say, pianists Paolo Paliaga or Michele Di Toro – an exquisite closer with a suppleness informed by the lightness of both Reeve’s percussion and Pini’s bass.

Released on 2 February 2015 and launching at The Vortex, London, on 18 February, Maurizio Minardi is touring Piano Ambulance during March (see dates below) – and, having previously seen this quartet live, I heartily recommend the excitement and entertainment value to be found in their intuitive performances.

 

Maurizio Minardi piano
Nick Pini double bass
Jason Reeve drums
Shirley Smart cello

March 2015 tour dates
4 March: Hull Jazz Club, Hull
5 March: Queens Hall Arts, Hexham
6 March: Pound Arts, Corsham
10 March: Annie’s Jazz, Southend
20 March: Gateway Arts Centre, Shrewsbury
27 March: Key Theatre Studio, Peterborough
29 March: Omnibus Arts Centre, London

mauriziominardi.com

Belfagor Label – MM12 (2014)

‘And suddenly, evening’ – Mike Collins

MikeCollins

THOSE fortunate enough to have viewed the gentle illumination of the city once known as Aquae Sulis, at dusk from higher ground, might easily concur that this new quartet release, And suddenly, evening, offers a fittingly elegant soundtrack.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Mike Collins piano
Lee Goodall saxophones
Ashley-John Long bass
Greg White drums

mikecollinstrio.com

Suitpieces Records – spr0002 (2015)

‘Too Much Love’ – Euan Burton

too-much-love

A STRONG SENSE of yearning and heart-on-sleeve emotion, imbued with the plaintiveness of traditional folksong, are the predominant characteristics flowing from this appealing new jazz quartet release by Scottish composer and bassist Euan Burton. Indeed, Burton’s album title, Too Much Love, reflects a concept built around the idea of people’s mistakes arising from “misplaced love or having so much love that they don’t know how to deal with it and channel it properly.” 

The sequence of seven self-penned numbers seems to suggest thematic progression (not unlike the bassist’s 2012 album, Occurrences), offering the impression of storytelling throughout its engaging thirty-five minutes; and the empathetic response to his writing – by turns homey and exhilarating – is delivered by longstanding Glaswegian compatriots Adam Jackson (alto sax), Tom Gibbs (piano) and Alyn Cosker (drums and cymbals). Euan Burton’s creative identity is his distinctive fusion of through-composition and a trust in individual improvisation – this is no straight saxophone-led foursome banging out my-turn-next riffs to a predictable formula, but rather a close ensemble who appear to spark off each other, in the moment, to bring immediacy and freshness to melodies which remain wholly accessible.

Two opening tracks perfectly illustrate Burton’s approach: Prelude – a wistful, open weave of tunes effortlessly shared and developed between the players; and This World – a delightfully buoyant folksy creation (perhaps it’s the honest, fluid alto sax of Jackson that intimates the pastoral hallmarks of 20th Century British clarinet concerti). Pianist Tom Gibbs appears to be one of Scottish jazz’s best-kept secrets (his own Fear of Flying album, with Euan Burton as bassist, is a particularly memorable release from 2012), and here, in Burton’s quartet, his adaptable creative presence is very much in evidence. The romantic breadth of Rhapsody finds him switching, midway, from grandiose chordal embellishment to a compulsively perky groove propelled by Burton’s bass and the assertive intricacies of Alyn Cosker’s drums and cymbals (at nine minutes, clearly a performance that revels in its breathing space).

Subtle contentment in All That Is Left (with a melody so clear, it could easily be sung to words) is exemplified by the lyricism of Jackson’s alto which eloquently shapes every phrase over the sustained rubato of Gibbs’ piano, with bass and drums in delicate support. Krakow is embraced joyously, Gibbs flamboyantly breaking free in characteristic piano style as Jackson grittily contributes to its countryfied ebullience; and Fading Memories, the most freely improvised-sounding piece on the album, reveals much about these players’ interaction as Cosker’s persistent percussive pulse encourages extemporisation out of Jackson’s bluesy riff – a tantalising glimpse, perhaps, of how they can push and extend the thread of an idea outwards in a live setting. To close, title track Too Much Love briefly reprises the longing of earlier numbers before celebrating more profusely the quartet’s undoubted connection with this music, Jackson and Gibbs finally resting the theme with charming Scottish folksong simplicity.

Released on Whirlwind Recordings, further information, audio samples, promo video and purchasing can be found here.

 

Euan Burton bass
Adam Jackson alto saxophone
Tom Gibbs piano
Alyn Cosker drums and cymbals

euanburton.com

Whirlwind Recordings – WR4662 (2014)